Feb.19 Presentation by Ling Zhang “Revolutionary Aestheticism and Excess”

Art and Politics of East Asia Workshop presents:

Revolutionary Aestheticism and Excess: Transformation of the Idealized Female Body in The Red Lantern on Stage and Screen

(Please click here to read the paper)

Ling Zhang

(PhD Student, Cinema and Media Studies)

With a response offered by

Max Bohnencamp

(PhD Candidate, EALC)

February 19 (Friday)

3:00-5:00 p.m.

Judd Hall 313

5835 South Kimbark Avenue

Chicago, IL 60637


In this paper, I take the revolutionary model opera film The Red Lantern (hongdengji紅燈記, 1970) as a case study, attempting to investigate the revolutionized modern Beijing opera’s assimilation and reinvention of traditional stage convention and Western theatrical and musical elements. Specifically, I trace the representation of the female body and its surrounding space in its double transformation in the film—that is, its transformation from the traditional to the modern and revolutionary, and from the stage to the screen. The excessively formalistic expression in the modern work may appear entirely distinct from traditional practice, in terms of performance formulas, setting, costume, theme, and so forth; however, I will demonstrate that the two share fundamental characteristics, and that Beijing Opera could serve as an appropriate art form to enhance revolutionary ideology. Although it emerged under extreme social, political, and culture circumstances, revolutionary model opera should not be regarded as an abrupt historical disruption or an isolated phenomenon, but as a continuation of an intention to reform and modernize traditional Chinese theater that already begun in the early twentieth century and persists on the contemporary Beijing Opera stage. The filmic version of The Red Lantern is based on an eponymous Beijing Opera stage production that had several precursors: a Shanghai Opera (huju/ 滬劇) version was derived from an earlier Beijing Opera version performed by the Ha’erbin Beijing Opera troupe and titled The Revolution Has Successors (geming ziyou houlairen/ 革命自有後來人); this was in turn adapted from the feature film The Revolution Has Successors (ziyou houlairen/ 自有後來人, 1963). After numerous rounds of transplanting and revision, The Red Lantern experienced a process of mystification, idealization, and sublimization, achieving a kind of formal and ideological excess. The film The Red Lantern is in no way a visual record or documentation of the stage performance. It conveys the qualities and spirit of the original work, and greatly heightens the grandeur and power already pervasive in the stage version by abundantly employing cinematic techniques such as indicative camera angles, fluent tracking shots, and the insertion of close-ups of faces, hands and objects in order to construct a plastic cinematic world. More significantly, the excessive revolutionary visual rhetoric presented by body movements, facial expressions and hand gestures, combined with the close-ups and the proximity between the camera and the human body, suggest a strong sense of the corporeality and materiality of the body on the screen. Furthermore, the direct and intimate means of presenting the characters’ loaded revolutionary passion and deep hatred towards the enemy make these emotions seem almost to penetrate the screen and impinge on the audience in an attempt to determine the spectator’s bodily and sensory perception of the film.

If you would like to be added to our mailing list and receive workshop updates, please contact jiyoung22@uchicago.edu

Faculty sponsors: Michael Bourdaghs, Paola Iovene

The workshop is sponsored by the Center for East Asian Studies and the Council on Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences. Persons with a disability who believe they may need assistance, please contact Ji Young Kim (jiyoung22@uchicago.edu) or Ling Zhang (ling1@uchicago.edu)


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